Hugo Gerbholz

by Teresa Acklin
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1999 A.O.M. Milling Operative of the Year

   FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Hugo Gerbholz, a German immigrant who started his career in flour milling 47 years ago sweeping floors at a Canadian mill of a U.S. company, was named the 1999 Milling Operative of the Year at the 103rd technical conference and trade show of the Association of Operative Millers, held May 15-19 in Fort Worth.

   The award is presented annually by Milling & Baking News, World Grain's sister publication, to recognize an active milling operative who has made significant contributions to his plant, his company and the milling industry from an operations standpoint. In addition, a $1,200 scholarship is established in the winner's name at Kansas State University at Manhattan.

   Mr. Gerbholz, 65, is director of technical milling at ConAgra Flour Milling Co., Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.

   Mr. Gerbholz was unable to attend the A.O.M. meeting in Fort Worth, so the award was presented to him a few days later at ConAgra's headquarters in Omaha. Charles Sosland, vice-president and chief operating officer of Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City, Missouri, made the presentation.

   In nominating Mr. Gerbholz for the award, Darek M. Nowakowski, president of ConAgra Flour Milling, said Mr. Gerbholz had been instrumental in the company's success, “and his presence will be felt for many years to come.”

    “His dedication to technical milling, training, mentoring young millers and passing along his vast milling experience to them has been a key driving force for our company,” Mr. Nowakowski said. “He has proven that focusing on the basic technical aspects of flour milling can make a big difference in the financial success of a flour milling company.”

   Mr. Gerbholz began his career in flour milling in 1952 at the Robin Hood flour mill in Calgary, Alberta, a Canadian subsidiary of International Multifoods Corp. “I started out sweeping the floor, just trying to make a few dollars, and pushed myself to learn the trade,” he said.

   The year before, at the age of 17, Mr. Gerbholz immigrated to Canada from Germany with his father, mother and four sisters, to work as contract laborers on a sugar beet farm in Raymond, Alberta. He met his wife, Edith, in Calgary a year later and credits her for finding him a job at the flour mill where her father worked.

   Mr. Gerbholz learned virtually every job in the mill, from oiler to smutter to bolter, eventually becoming a shift miller. Although he has been a member of the A.O.M. since 1972 and took several correspondence courses, all his training was done “on the job,” Mr. Gerbholz said. “I picked up anything I could get my hands on about milling, and took night classes to further my English,” he said.

   In 1967, he was promoted to assistant head miller and transferred to Davenport, Iowa, and then to Detroit, Mich. In 1970, he took a job as head miller/plant superintendent at a 2,000-cwt soft wheat mill in Dowagiac, Mich. When the plant closed in 1972, he went to work for ConAgra as a regional technical miller and, except for a two-year period as production manager for a Saudi Arabian milling company in the early 1980s, has been with that company since. Mr. Gerbholz in 1993 succeeded Warner Wellman as director of technical milling; Mr. Wellman was a Milling Operative of the Year award winner in 1991.

   In his current position, Mr. Gerbholz is responsible for flour quality and plant efficiencies at ConAgra's 28 flour mills. He has traveled extensively from one plant to another, in assignments ranging from troubleshooting and new mill start-up to equipment installation and capacity increases. But Mr. Gerbholz said the one aspect of his job that he especially enjoys is “training and teaching young millers the art of milling, and instilling in them to love their job as much as I do.”

   One of his associates said of Mr. Gerbholz, “He has helped me overcome the frustration and confusion that a young miller faces while learning how to fine tune a flour mill.”

   Another wrote, “The most lasting and important contribution a person can make to their company is not in sifters hung, rolls rebuilt, cleaning houses modernized or reflows completed, but rather the impact one has on the company's people.”

   Mr. Gerbholz said the Milling Operative of the Year award was particularly satisfying because it came from his peers and from his co-workers. “It (the award) says you've done some good, you've made a mark,” he said.

   The first recipient of the Milling Operative of the Year award, in 1986, was Jerry D. Kuhn, White Lily Foods Co., Knoxville, Tenn. He was followed by Eric Karow, Maple Leaf Mills, Ltd., Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada, in 1987; Weldon (Ed) White, General Mills, Inc., Kansas City, in 1988; Daniel L. Wells, ADM Milling Co., Salina, Kansas, in 1989; Owen Roberts, Cargill Flour Milling, San Bernardino, California, in 1990; Warner Wellman, ConAgra, Inc., Omaha, in 1991; Frederic O. (Fred) Honeywell, Shawnee Milling Co., Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1992; John R. Gibson, The Mennel Milling Co. of Virginia, Roanoke, in 1993; Vernon (Red) Tegeler, Siemer Milling Co., Teutopolis, Illinois, in 1994; Jon Peters, Cargill, Inc., Lake City, Minnesota, in 1995; Robert Hare, Cereal Food Processors, Inc., Wichita, Kansas, in 1996; Gary Pickelmann, Star of the West Milling Co., Frankenmuth, Michigan, in 1997; and Rick Thomas, plant operations superintendent, ADM Milling Co., Los Angeles, in 1998.

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